Chen was born in Nanchong, Sichuan. He served as an official in the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period. His father was said to be Chen Shi, a military general of Shu Han, who once had his beard shaved off as a penalty by order of the chancellorZhuge Liang, after a campaign that failed due to a shortsighted strategy by its commander, Ma Su. After the fall of Shu Han in 263, he served as a historian in the Jin Dynasty. In 274, he collected the writings of Zhuge Liang.